When Dean Kamen accepted the National Inventor of the Year Award in 2013 for his Slingshot Water Purification System, he spoke of his creation with a biblical reference that alludes to something greater about human ingenuity.
This godsend, which is designed for remote places and uses little energy, is named Slingshot, Kamen said, because waterborne disease is a Goliath-sized challenge. Kamen’s invention empowers Davids around the world to overcome unclean water.
IPWatchdog reported, “To him the [David vs. Goliath] story is about a little guy with a really big problem who had access to a little technology to help him; namely a slingshot.
Kamen may not be a household name, but many people know of his inventions. These include the AutoSyringe drug infusion pump, the iBot all-terrain electric wheelchair, and the Segway.
Millions of unsung inventors have labored at their benches. They’ve come up with all sorts of contraptions, devices, processes, materials, and discoveries that have improved our lives in countless ways. For every Alexander Graham Bell, there are hundreds of inventors whose names are unknown to history.
Where do inventors’ ideas come from? What’s the origin of that spark of ingenuity?
At its heart lies an innate human spirit. We were born creative. We have a drive to bring order and to figure things out.
Couple creativity with inherent ownership rights and you have a powerful dynamo for sparking inventive ideas and motivation to turn those ideas into useful form.
Digging deeper, we find this creative quality is divinely endowed. Judeo-Christian scripture says that, in addition to creating the sun and planets, animals and plants, God made humans in His image. This image-bearing carries with it both human creativity and the right to own whatever you invent, build, grow, or compose.
The Lord sets the creator-owner model. For instance, Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”
God’s Creation Mandate found in the first two chapters of Genesis charges human beings to busy themselves putting creation’s resources to practical use. Work isn’t punishment; it’s key to human existence, for one’s own fulfillment and society’s progress.
The Ten Commandments address private property rights: the first four for God’s property, the last six for individuals’ property. Political philosopher John Locke latched onto this notion of private property rights. The Declaration of Independence continued this thought, referring to “self-evident truths” and Creator-endowed “unalienable rights.”
In the New Testament, Jesus affirmed the commandment against stealing other people’s property. The Apostle Paul in the book of Romans references ownership rights, reciting the prophet Isaiah on the potter’s prerogative to decide how to fashion his clay.
There are always undiscovered truths to find and problems to solve. Whether one accepts the biblical framework for inventiveness, creativity, and ownership rights, we’re all beneficiaries of inventors, Christian or not. Even Thomas Edison, a religious skeptic, revolutionized the world through his “disruptive” inventions and his 1,093 U.S. patents.
As Galileo said, “The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” So individuals chase creative pursuits in hopes of solving a problem, extending knowledge, or creating a masterpiece. Fulfillment and wealth creation follow as byproducts.
Devout Christian George Washington Carver invented more than 300 products from peanuts and more than 100 from sweet potatoes. He asked, “Why, then, should we who believe in Christ be so surprised at what God can do with a willing man in a laboratory?”
The creator-owner model that exists from the Garden of Eden through the Ten Commandments, and from the New Testament to Locke and other political philosophers, is distilled in the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution.
The American approach adapts the biblical creator-owner model. The Founders wrote inventors’ and creators’ property rights into the original Constitution. Article I, Section 8 secures (not gives) exclusive ownership rights to one’s discoveries and creations. It provides time-limited exclusivity to the newly-created property in order to promote scientific and practical artistic progress and foster the nation’s industry and economy.
There’s no doubt about the owner — the one who originated the invention or made the discovery. Our early patent laws specified that patents would go to the “first and true inventor.” This democratizes patents — decidedly differing from the Old World model, where monarchs gave patents to their cronies.
The result: Americans from all walks of life can create slingshots to slay diverse Goliaths. America innovates and thrives and prospers.
This is reminiscent of God’s words for the exiled Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah: that they should “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you . . . because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
James Edwards is executive director of Conservatives for Property Rights (@4PropertyRights) and patent policy advisor to Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund. The views expressed are his own.